Leandro Erlich: Dalston House. Installation image © Gar Powell-Evans 2013. Courtesy of Barbican Art Gallery
For years, artist Leandro Erlich has been inviting visitors to become a part of his often gravity-defying illusion filled installations. His latest piece, commissioned by the Barbican in London, invites art lovers to trapes all over, and up and down, the façade of a house. Titled Dalston House, the piece alludes to weightlessness, by juxtaposing a larger-than-life reflective mirror over an actual-sized multimedia house, position on the floor below. Aside from the incredible feat of interactive illusion, the piece is also an homage to the actual architecture that once lined the street, before it was bombed out in World War II.
Erlich designed Dalston House with the original home that once stood on the vacant lot on Ashwin Street in mind, with ornate cornerstones, wood-framed bay window, and welcoming weathered brick. Except unlike the homes that once stood in the Georgian and Victorian-influenced area of Hackney, Dalston House doesn’t meet the cold grey London skies above, but instead stretches horizontally across the lot. Jutting out at a 45 degree angle above the horizontal home is a massive reflective mirror, capturing visitors at seemingly weightless play as they crawl across the façade. Looking up at the reflection, the players, aka gallery-goers, seem to hang from window ledges, sit effortlessly on panes, dangle from strings, and strut up and down the façade like Spiderman in zero gravity. The illusion is broken as the visitors stand upright to move from position to position, appearing as horizontal protrusions in the giant looking glass, which is flawed in its own right, showing seams where large pieces are joined together.
The project also brings a sense of history and a further layer of altered reality to the disused vacant lot that stands at the former 1-7 Ashwin Street. The lot has remained vacant since the homes that once stood along the street were bombed in World War II -- a war that was waged before many of the visitors to Dalston House were born, and which many have only experienced in television shows and movies. The project’s recreation of one of the fallen homes brings a grounding in actual reality that otherwise seems cinematic, and brings attention to a London experiencing war and attack -- a fact that now seems completely fantastical.
Last year, the Argentine born artist enlivened Paris with a similar project, called Bâtiment (Building), which was part of Le Centquatre’s In Perception group show. Like Dalston House, the piece turned an architectural façade on its side -- appropriately a four storied Parisian Haussmann-style three dormered home typical to the city, which stretched across Le Centquatre’s massive interior courtyard. Excited by Erlich’s infusion of art and architecture (not to mention unadulterated fun), the Barbican commissioned the artist for the site specific piece for their “Beyond Barbican” program, which includes outdoor projects, pop-ups and collaborations that take place outside of the actual Barbican Arts Center itself. Beyond Barbican’s projects create a new dialogue between the works and their temporary spaces outside of an organized art platform, which engages the general public that may not otherwise visit an arts center. Erlich’s Dalston House art installation also ties together art and architecture, appearing as part of the London Festival of Architecture 2013.
Both Bâtiment and Dalston House take an extremely relatable and familiar object or scene, the family home, and challenge the viewer’s perceptions of daily life by skewing their comfort zone. The simple reality of banal day-to-day life, like leaving and coming home from work or school, are challenged, and the elements of urban life are given a fresh perspective -- by letting the viewer walk all over it.
Like many museum exhibitions in London, Dalston House is free to enjoy, although timed tickets must be obtained in order to limit the number of visitors enjoying their own illusions at any one time. The piece engages both adults and children, but also encourages art making itself -- spurring countless self portraits and snapshots, where the visitor is the performance artist, and Erlich’s installation is merely the back drop. Interactive pieces like Dalston House excite and turn on newcomers to arts and culture, invigorating and fostering passion for the arts by making visitors feel a part of them.
Erlich creates installations with fluid and skewed boundaries that often challenge traditional ideas and realities of architecture. Born in Buenos Aires in 1973, the artist has the innate ability to collapse the reality of a situation by altering only one or two elements of a comfortable setting, creating pieces that awaken something within the viewer. In the past he has created faux skylight installations in gallery ceilings, elevators that are stuck, and transformed galleries into country homes with video windows that make the visitor feel as if they’ve stepped into the South of France. Each piece is wonderfully escapist, allowing the visitor to totally immerse themselves in a piece of art, if only for a moment.